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Alaska Supreme Court rules same-sex couples have access to survivor benefits

Alaska Supreme Court rules same-sex couples have access to survivor benefits

Alaska’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday, 25 July, that same-sex partners should have access to survivor benefits.

The ruling stems from the 2011 workplace murder of Kerry Fadely. She was employed by Anchorage’s Millennium Hotel when shot and killed by a disgruntled former employee.

According to Lambda Legal, a LGBTI rights organization, the US state’s  ‘workers’ compensation law requires employers to provide survivor benefits, which are generally paid by insurance companies, to the surviving spouse of a person who dies from a work-related injury.’

Fadely and Harris were a couple for more than 10 years. They would have married, except for the state’s ban on marriage equality.

In 2012, Harris filed a claim with Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board. In 2013, the claim was denied. Lambda Legal lawyers filed an appeal with the state’s highest court last year.

‘In short, denying same-sex couples access to death benefits under the workers’ compensation statute does not bear a fair and substantial relationship…,’ the court wrote in its opinion.

‘This is a wonderful ruling for same-sex couples in Alaska who have built lives and raised families together but were at risk because they were barred access to a critical safety net created specifically to catch families at moments of crisis,’ Peter Renn, Lambda Legal staff attorney, said in a statement.

‘Like the avalanche of decisions we’re seeing from every corner of this country, the court recognized that loving, committed same-sex couples should have equal access to the law’s protection,’  Renn continued.

This is the second time in recent months the western state’s highest court ruled in favor of LGBTI families and couples. In April the Supreme Court ruled the state can no longer discriminate against same-sex families by not allowing access to property tax exemptions reserved for senior citizens and disabled veterans.